In 1835 visionary Samuel Burnside built a saw mill on the banks of Crooked Creek in northeast LaGrange County. Peter Beisel decided to construct a grist mill nearby and use materials from Burnside’s mill to build his own mill.
“Years ago water was the determining factor of where you could build a mill,” says Howard Rinkel, present owner of Greenfield Mills. “Mills ran off of water power. There was no electric power.”
Unfortunately Beisel ran into financial trouble and could not complete the grist mill. The mill had to wait until 1846 to be completed by Amos Davis. The “jinxed old mill” spent half of a century being tossed around to different owners. When Henry Rinkel purchased it in 1904, the mill was being used as a dance hall because the Crooked Creek dam had been washed out months before.
Skeptical neighbors assisted Rinkel for two long years with their picks and shovels. Extensive repairs were necessary at the obsolete mill. Finally, in 1906, Rinkel began producing “New Wrinkle” flour.
The mill is still producing the same quality flour. However, now the flour is labeled “New Rinkel” and Crooked Creek has been renamed Fawn River.
Since 1904, Greenfield Mills has been family-owned, passed along from father to son two times. Howard Rinkel is a third-generation owner. A fourth, fifth and sixth generation exist, though none are designated to take over the mill.
While there were once hundreds of small wheat mills in Indiana, there are now only a handful left in the country.
“Business has changed a lot. Farmers used to come and buy a year’s supply of flour from us,” said Rinkel. “(The flour industry) is all commercialized now, so our main buyers are bakeries.”
Rinkel explains that years ago grocery stores were family-owned, and customers baked from scratch. Now grocery stores are massive supermarket chains. Customers use mixes instead of flour.
“It is a faster world now,” said Rinkel’s wife, Helen.
In 1974, Howard, Howard’s father and Howard’s son David broke ground on a “New Mill” building just down the road from the “Old Mill.” The “New Mill” could produce the same amount of flour in one room that the old mill produced on four floors.
For many years, the “New Mill” produced flour used to bread Kentucky Fried Chicken. But after Colonel Sanders’ death in the late 1980s, KFC changed its recipe and no longer used the soft winter wheat flour.
The “New Mill” was approached by an Ohio company in 1975 about grinding organic buckwheat flour. Since then, Howard’s daughter, Joyce Rinkel, has taken over all of the organic business. The “New Mill” was OCIA certified in 1996 and now produces only organic flour. Today organic flour is Greenfield Mills’ most successful product. Semis carry out loads of 40,000 pounds about once a week. These loads are transported to Portsmouth, Ark., for the making of crackers.
Greenfield Mills is the oldest commercial water-powered mill left in the state and the oldest business in LaGrange County. The mill is run by electricity produced by a water powered generator. There are also 11 neighboring homes that are powered by the private hydro-electric generator, making Greenfield Mills the smallest electric utility company in the state. The organic industry of the “New Mill” has the potential to carry on the success of Greenfield Mills for years to come.
The Mill is now outfitted with a small country store where you can buy Rinkel products, including their bread flour, blueberry pancake mix, pumpkin spice pancake mix, and buckwheat and buttermilk pancake mixes. Their biggest seller is their Hearts of Wheat Cereal. They also sell other locally made and grown products from Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan including Crabill Farms Barbeque sauces, and organic honey, as well as Indiana maple syrup.